25 July 2011

Sao Paulo Bicycle Life

What with all the travelling I do to speak in cities around the world I always get the pleasure of meeting up with not only the politicians and policymakers but also the local cycling crowd and advocates. It is a constant source of inspiration to see what the latter group is doing on the ground and to experience, with them, the conditions for cycling in their city. I feel priviledged to have met so many amazing people around the world and to have ridden bicycles with them in countless cities.

I can't put a finger on it, but the crowd in Sao Paulo, were somehow a cut above the rest. I had such an inspiring time with them all during my four days in the city. And what a mad city. There are seven million cars - with 3000 new cars hitting the streets each day - and one million motorbikes. The motorbikes are insane. They are like swarms of wasps in the traffic with the high-pitched whine of their motors and the way they surf madly through the traffic. Two motorcyclists are killed each day in Sao Paulo.

The cyclists are fighting for a more bicycle-friendly city and their struggle in Sao Paulo makes North American cities look like Dutch or Danish cities. I tweeted it when I was there, but cyclists in Europe, North America and Australasia should try riding in Sao Paulo in order to realise how good the conditions are where they live.

The cyclists are hardcore. They are fearless and yet strong, sober cyclists. The ones I rode with, when faced with a bus or car that was going to cut them off, made their prescence known but they shouted positive messages, as opposed to that very Anglo tendency to get all aggressive.

All in all, cycling through the city for four days with these people was inspirational and enjoyable. Sao Paulo has a long journey ahead towards re-establishing the bicycle as transport and building bicycle infrastructure.

The city, like so many others, transforms itself on Sundays for the Ciclofaixa, where safe routes are cordoned off for bicycle rides and the bike lanes through some of the parks are filled with families enjoying a ride.

Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa
Sao Paolo Cycle Lane

Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_16 Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_13
Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_9 Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_10
Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_2 Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_14

Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_18
Sao Paolo Ciclofaixa_19
Ironically, Volvo sponsors the blue, painted bicycle path through one of the main parks.

Sao Paolo Train Station Secure Bike Parking_1 Sao Paolo Train Station Bike Parking
There are some decent facilities for parking at certain train and metro stations, which is alway encouraging.

Sao Paolo Bike Joy
One of the oddest things in the city is this 14 km long bike path along the river - the stinkiest damn river I've ever plugged my nose at, but hey. Great with a bike path for a bike ride, but access to the path is only available at three train stations and the path closes at night.

Sao Paolo Bike Facilities - Bathroom and Water
There are facilities along the way - bathrooms and water - which, again, is cool. There were some cyclists but there were mostly regular citizens going for a ride on the Sunday I was there.

Sao Paolo Breakdown Repair
And on the Sunday there were bicycle repair bikes present if anyone had a technical problem or a flat.

Sao Paulo is lightyears behind other cities in the quest for bringing the bicycle back. These single blossoms on an otherwise bare tree are, however, a sign of hope and optimism. And so many good people advocating for the bicycle are the nourishment that will help the garden grow.